Moving forward with the mission

Imagine a hot August afternoon in 1931 and picture three dedicated Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, making their way up the hill, carrying a statue of Mary, a $5 bill and their faith in the new mission they were about to begin — Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Clearly, there was risk in this new endeavor: The expensive decision of purchasing the Flintridge Biltmore Hotel as a new school had created controversy among the sisters; they had no grand plan for recruiting boarding students. And how would they make the necessary changes to take a beautiful hotel and turn it into a boarding school for girls? The sisters' faith, their courage and their vision were the foundation on which Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy began its mission. In the early 1950s the sisters, responding to the needs of their neighbors, opened their doors to day students.

Little did these sisters know that 81 years later, this school would have produced thousands of remarkable graduates — strong female leaders with compassionate hearts — including Rhodes and Fulbright scholars, a White House staffer, first vice president of Costa Rica, Olympic-caliber athletes, doctors, lawyers, Peace Corps volunteers, teachers and more. These women bring pride to our community and more importantly, bring hope to the world.

FSHA is fortunate to exist in a community that not only has an exceptional public school system but also benefits from strong private schools. Like any of the schools that operate in La Cañada Flintridge, FSHA is constantly changing to meet the demands of educating its young women. While our mission remains the same, our students' needs have changed over the past 81 years. The time has come to modernize our campus to meet the needs of a 21st century educational experience.

In the mid-1990s, we began in earnest to provide updated facilities for our students. With support from our parents, neighbors, our community and the city, we enjoyed a collaborative experience and built our Student Activities Center, which houses our gymnasium, science classrooms, amphitheater and athletic field. Now, we want to complete our campus improvements. I am confident we will also improve our neighborhood.

For example, one of the goals of our master plan is to improve the flow of traffic and actually take cars off of the surrounding streets. By building a partially subterranean parking facility on the site of our current junior parking lot, we will create a second site for student drop-off and pick-up, thereby reducing the queue of vehicles during that time. This new facility will also reduce street parking during special school events. The number of daily commuters should decrease, as parents no longer will have to make multiple trips for students who can drive but have no place to park.

Our master plan also provides for modern classrooms, performance and athletic spaces, and a library and technology center that supports the educational needs of today's student. These will replace facilities built in the 1950s; they will all be located on the same sites.

Our mission will not change. We will continue to educate our young women in a spirit of faith, integrity and truth. We will continue to train them to be strong leaders and to make a difference as they serve the needs of others around them.

As we meet 21st century curricular needs, we are mindful of the fact that we share this beautiful hilltop with neighbors and friends. We are grateful to Myron Hunt, the famed Southern California architect who designed the original hotel facilities; our new facilities will mirror his design. We are keeping rooflines for our new facilities at the relative same height as the current existing buildings. We are also seeking to update our enrollment cap to distinguish between our day/commuter students and our boarding students, who live on the hill and do not drive to school, along with filing an annual enrollment report to the city.

The city is conducting a comprehensive environmental review of our project, and we will address concerns that are raised. We look forward to the city's review process, and we encourage your participation and collaboration. For more information, please visit

The founding sisters who arrived on the hill in 1931 embraced a vision; they believed that educating young women was a valuable gift to bring to the community. We still believe it is all about the girls we serve. We trust the La Cañada Flintridge community is as proud of our young women as we are.

SISTER CAROLYN McCORMACK, O.P., has been president of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy since August 2003. She has also served on the Congregational Leadership Team of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose and held leadership positions for various Catholic schools in Northern California.

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World